Serial Entrepreneurs of the Biohealth Capital Region

A strong group of entrepreneurs ready and willing to innovate, fund and lead new bioscience companies is essential to the creation and sustainability of top-tier biohealth clusters. 

It is often referenced that the BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) lacks a deep enough pool of qualified executive talent that is needed to sustain a larger cluster with more early-stage biotech startups. In fact, Ken Mills, CEO of REGENXBIO shared his feelings towards this void in leadership talent in a recent BBJ article, stating, “People who have experienced some success in the industry need to stay here and be the foundation for investing in new opportunities in biotech.”

Though the pool may not be as deep as that of San Francisco or Boston; the region has a host of “serial” entrepreneurs that have played invaluable roles in shaping what is now, according to the publication GEN, the 4th ranked biocluster in the United States. 

Let’s take a look at what some of these individuals have achieved and where they are headed as we profile some of the BHCR’s most accomplished serial entrepreneurs and their companies. 

Doug Doerfler, Maxcyte

Doug Doerfler has more than three decades of experience in the discovery, development and commercialization of biotechnology products and in international financing for life science ventures. He has held many high level executive positions in industry, including: Senior corporate development and operations roles at PFRM, Inc., a biotechnology holdings company; he was CEO and Director at the cell-based therapy and diagnostics company Immunicon Corporation; and he held various executive positions at Life Technologies (now ThermoFisher Scientific). 

Doerfler is an active advocate for the BHCR bioscience industry, serving on multiple boards and providing mentorship and guidance to the region’s bioscience entrepreneurs. He currently serves on the executive board of BIO and is the Chair Emeritus for the Maryland Tech Council.    

In 1998 Doerfler co-founded MaxCyte, whose core technology, an advanced cell engineering platform, has grown alongside the advancing cell and gene therapy field. They have become a leading company driving the acceleration of the discovery, development, manufacturing, and commercialization of next-generation, cell-based medicines. The organization has more than 80+ cell therapy partnered programme licenses, 45+ of which are licensed for clinical use. 

Under Doerfler, MaxCyte has more recently also made the evolution beyond a life sciences company by utilizing its core technology and expertise to develop CARMA, a proprietary, breakthrough platform in immuno-oncology, to rapidly manufacture chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) therapies. Under CARMA, MaxCyte is now advancing its own pipeline with a lead therapy candidate currently in Phase I trials.

You can learn more about Doug Doerfler on the BioTalk Podcast with Rich Bendis.

Ken Carter, Neuralstem

Ken Carter, PhD has a storied history of founding successful life science companies in the BHCR. He is widely viewed as an entrepreneurial force in the region and a scientific leader with strong experience in building development-stage biotech organizations. He has served on many advisory and corporate boards, including work with BioHealth Innovation (BHI) and BIO.  

Early in his career at Human Genome Sciences, Inc. Dr. Carter directed the gene mapping initiative where he played a role in the discovery, cloning, and chromosomal mapping of dozens of novel human genes. He then went on to co-found Avalon Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in January 1999 and served as CEO for 10 years until 2009 when Avalon merged with Clinical Data, Inc. During this time, Avalon developed a unique biomarker-based drug discovery and development engine and took the company public on the NASDAQ market.

The last ten or so years have seen Carter launch NexImmune, a Johns Hopkins spinout that anticipates its lead cancer therapy starting clinical trials in 2019, and co-found Noble Life Sciences, a preclinical contract research organization (CRO) where he is currently Chairman of the Board. In 1999, Carter co-founded Avalon Pharmaceuticals and led the organization from launch through its merger in 2009. He then went on to lead Avalon’s IPO efforts, playing a key role in taking the company public in 2004.

Carter’s latest engagement is with Neuralstem, where he is the company’s Executive Chairman. Neuralstem is a publicly-traded biotechnology company focused on researching and development novel stem cell treatments for nervous system diseases.   

Michael Richmond, NextCure

Michael Richmond has more than three decades of life science industry experience across an impressive range of disciplines from legal and operations to project management, intellectual property, business development and strategic planning. Richmond has held high level executive positions with a number of BHCR companies.

Among other high level roles, he was EVP and COO of MacroGenics from 2002 to 2007 and VP of Corporate Development at MedImmune from 2000 to 2002. He was most recently President and CEO of Amplimmune, a biologics company focused on developing cancer immunology therapies. Amplimmune was acquired by MedImmune in 2013 for an initial investment of $225M. 

Today, Richmond is the co-founder, President and CEO of NextCure, a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company committed to discovering and developing novel, first-in-class immuno-medicines to treat cancer and other immune-related diseases. Under Richmond’s leadership he raised a $67M Series A round with notable investors that include Canaan Partners, Lilly Asia Ventures, OrbiMed Advisors, Pfizer, Sofinnova Ventures, and Alexandria Venture Investments. 

In November 2018 the company raised another $93 million in Series B equity financing led by Hillhouse Capital Management and Quan Capital. Also that month they announced a multi-year collaboration with Eli Lilly focused on the discovery and development of immuno-oncology therapies that would provide NextCure an upfront payment of $25M and $15M in equity investment.

In 2019, Richmond was instrumental in taking NextCure public and led the company’s IPO that closed in May 2019 resulting in $86.5M in gross proceeds.

Alain Cappeluti, NexImmune

Alain Cappeluti was the second employee at Human Genome Sciences (HGS), an organization that has had a profound impact on shaping the BHCR. Cappeluti remains a major thought leader and influencer in the region. He brings more than three decades of public and private company experience to the table, having directly participated in about $4B in corporate financing transactions, including M&A, IPOs and real estate. Cappeluti was instrumental in the successful HGS spinout, CoGenesys, serving as its CFO until Teva Pharmaceuticals acquired the company in 2008.

In 2008 he became CFO and a board member for Gaithersburg, Maryland’s OTraces, Inc., a diagnostics company developing artificial intelligence-Based based cancer blood test technology. Cappeluti became President of Noble Life Sciences in 2010; over the past 10 years the company has grown into a leading CRO providing GLP and non-GLP preclinical services for the development of drugs, vaccines and medical devices. In 2011 he became the CFO of ConverGene, LLC., a small molecule drug development company targeting BET proteins to achieve epigenetic control of MYC for several cancers.

In 2011 Cappeluti also joined JHU spin-out NexImmune as CFO to help bring to market a new generation of immunotherapies based on its proprietary nanotechnology AIM Platform™. In 2017, Cappeluti helped lead the acquisition of NexImmune by a consortium of some of the biggest names in biotech, including Teva Pharmaceuticals (NYSE: TEVA) Chairman Dr. Sol Barer who led the acquisition. Other notable investors and board members include Joshua Barer, managing director of Sunflower Life Sciences, and William Hawkins, former chairman and CEO of medical device maker Medtronic, and Bing Yao, CEO of AstraZeneca spin-out, Viela Bio. 

NexImmune’s first product, for the treatment of cancer, is expected to enter clinical trials in 2019.

Viktor Roschke Neuraly, Inc. & Theraly Fibrosis, Inc.

Viktor Roschke has a deep history of leadership and entrepreneurial roles in the BHCR that begins with his nearly 10-year run at Human Genome Sciences (HGSi) as Executive Director, Clinical Immunology and Antibody Development. Roschke helped lead HGSi’s only spin-out, CoGenesys, and played a critical role in the due diligence that led to the company’s acquisition by Teva Pharmaceuticals, where he eventually became VP of Biopharmaceutical Research. After Teva, Roschke joined Zyngenia as VP of Research and Development and a board member to lead the development of the company’s technology platform. Roschke also led the acquisition process that resulted in its purchase by PharmEco and then acted as Interim CEO during the integration process. 

In July 2015, he co-founded Theraly Fibrosis, a company focused on developing treatments for fibrotic disease variants based on the work of co-founder and Johns Hopkins Associate Professor, Seulki Lee. A year later, he co-founded Neuraly as a sister company to Theraly based on research led by Johns Hopkins’ Ted Dawson, M.D., PhD, the Leonard and Madlyn Abramson Professor in Neurodegenerative Diseases andirector of the university’s Institute for Cell Engineering. 

Roschke helped the pair of companies raise approximately $11M in funding and led their acquisition by Korea-based D&D PharmaTech. In August 2019, D&D PharmaTech announced a $137.1 million Series B round, which will help all three companies advance their respective pipelines. Roschke currently serves as the CSO and sits on the board of directors at Neuraly, Inc. The company’s lead product candidates are now in Phase 1 clinical trials and are they are expecting to have several product candidates in phase 2 within the next year.    

Jeff Galvin, AGT

Jeff Galvin has a long and accomplished entrepreneurial history that began in Silicon Valley’s Tech industry. He has a more than 30 year entrepreneurial track record that includes founder or executive leadership positions in several Silicon Valley startups to Angel investment. Several of Galvin’s companies went IPO and/or were acquired by public companies, including one in the medical-technology arena that was sold to Varian, the leading maker of linear accelerators used in cancer therapy. 

A serial tech innovator, Galvin was able to retire in his early 40’s in 2002. However, when Galvin discovered the groundbreaking viral vector work of the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Dr. Roscoe Brady, he ended his early retirement and co-founded American Gene Technologies along with with Brady in 2007.

American Gene Technologies is a cell and gene therapy company that utilizes a proprietary lentiviral platform to develop potential treatments for liver cancer, Phenylketonuria (PKU), HIV and inherited genetic disorders. AGT’s novel lentiviral platform has enabled the company to develop, test and bank thousands of lentiviral vectors, which can then be matched to develop treatments for new target diseases, including orphan/rare diseases like PKU as well as diseases with larger patient populations. AGT is committed to curing PKU via its proprietary lentiviral platform. The company received FDA Orphan Drug Designation and is progressing its PKU therapy toward the clinic. The company’s leading treatment candidate is a potential cure for HIV, which is expected to move into the clinic in 2019.   

Galvin is active on many boards, including the Maryland Tech Council (MTC) and the Cancer Support Community (CSC), and is one of the most visible executives in Maryland’s biotech community regularly speaking at events and volunteering his time to inspire students in STEM.

For more on Jeff Galvin and America Gene Technologies, listen to his guest appearance on the BioTalk Podcast with Rich Bendis.

Wendy Perrow, AsclepiX

Wendy Perrow has a deep history of entrepreneurship and life science leadership in the BHCR. She is currently the CEO of AsclepiX Therapeutics, a biologics company located in Baltimore, Maryland. AsclepiX mission is to revolutionize retinal disease and cancer treatment by developing and delivering novel peptides that target and inhibit key disease pathways. Under Perrow’s leadership, the company raised $5M in convertible note funding in 2018, which being used to advance its leading drug candidate, AX107. AX107 is an innovative potential treatment for diabetic macular edema (DMA) and wet age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD), the two leading causes of adult blindness.

Before joining AsclepiX Therapeutics, Perrow was the CEO of Alba Therapeutics. With Perrow at the helm, the organization secured a licensing agreement with Innovative Biopharmaceuticals, Inc., completed seven Celiac Disease clinical trials, including the largest Celiac Disease Phase IIb clinical trial, and validated the first Celiac Disease Patient Reported Outcome for larazotide acetate. Perrow, a graduate of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, has also served in a wide range of executive leadership roles in both public and private biopharma companies. She was vice president of marketing for Sigma-Tau Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and she had a successful 14 year run in a variety of global marketing roles for Merck and Co., where she led many successful campaigns for top Merck products, including leading products Zocor®, Vasotec®, Varivax®, Cozaar®, and Hyzaar®.   

Greg Merril, Adaptive Phage Therapeutics

Greg Merril is a serial entrepreneur who has led more than 20 financing transactions that have raised more than $100M. He has been the founding CEO of three VC-backed health and medical product companies: Brain Sentry, Inc.; Interaction Laboratories; and Immersion Medical, Inc. While with HT Medical Systems he led the company through a $42M merger with Immersion Corp. Merrill was named a Regional Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2007. 

In 2016, Merril and his father Dr. Carl Merril, a retired NIH researcher and foremost expert on phage technology, co-founded Adaptive Phage Therapeutics (APT) in a collaboration with the U.S. Navy after the now-famed account of Tom Patterson, the first patient in the U.S. to be treated with injected phage therapy.  Patterson was at the brink of life after being infected by one of the most deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but beat the deadly infection using the technology that has now become the foundation of APT’s portfolio. 

APT’s technology has been shown to be effective for patients and has received significant attention for several life-saving case studies (including features in TIME magazine, the Washington Post, MIT Tech Review, and many others), and was recognized by CB-Insights in 2019 as one of 36 startups with game-changing technology that could change the world

The company is now funded through a combination of seed investments and federal government (DoD) R&D contracts and moving towards clinical trials for FDA regulatory approval. Simultaneously, APT continues to treat several patients a month through a rare Emergency Investigational New Drug (eIND) allowance granted by the FDA after all other treatment options have failed. 

APT is currently in the process of raising Series A funds to support its growth efforts to bring their products to the market. 

Randal Kirk, Intrexon

Randal Kirk is a billionaire biotech entrepreneur from southern Virginia with strong ties to the region. Though he is less active locally, his deep roots in Virginia and leadership of Maryland-based Intrexon earned him a spot on our list.  He began his biohealth career in 1983 as the founder of the next-day pharmaceutical distributor General Injectables and Vaccines that he sold for $65 million in 1998. In 1996, Kirk founded New River Pharmaceuticals, the developer of attention-deficit drug Vyvanse, where he served as chairman and CEO and took the company public in 2004.  In 2007 he sold the company to Shire for $2.6 billion, making over a $1 billion in payout. 

In 1999, Kirk founded the life-sciences investment firm Third Security, LLC, where he is senior managing director, CEO and chairman. From 2000 to 2002, Kirk served as a member of the board of directors for Scios, Inc., a maker of heart disease medication that later sold to Johnson & Johnson for $2.4 billion. Kirk also became the majority stockholder and chairman of Newton, Massachusetts-based pharmaceutical company Clinical Data, Inc. In 2011, shortly after Clinical Data’s drug Viibryd received regulatory approval, Forest Laboratories bought Clinical Data for $1.2 billion.

Kirk became involved with synthetic biotechnology company Intrexon in the 2000’s and was named chairman of its board in 2008, later becoming CEO in 2009. Kirk took Intrexon public in 2013, taking the company’s market cap to $2.5 billion with the IPO. The company’s broad portfolio of projects and companies include creating cancer treatments, gasoline substitutes, crop protection, and improving bovine genetics. 

In January 2017 Intrexon acquired Maryland-based GenVec whose AdenoVerse™ gene delivery platform greatly accelerate its ability to develop new gene therapies and scalable manufacturing capabilities. Then in March 2017 Intrexon consolidated all of its health-related assets, including those recently acquired in GenVec, under a new subsidiary, Precigen, with a base of operations in Germantown, Maryland.  Precigen is a cell and gene therapy company addressing the most urgent and intractable challenges in immuno-oncology, autoimmune disorders, and infectious diseases.

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